CALGARY — Still winded from a lengthy overtime shift that saw him pull another rabbit out of his hat, Matthew Tkachuk didn’t chalk the Flames latest win up to magic.
This one was pure larceny.
“We really had no business winning that game, other than Ritter,” said Tkachuk, whose seeing-eye shot in the final minute of overtime Tuesday was a far cry from the between-the-legs goal of the year candidate he authored five nights earlier in Nashville.
“This one was just a normal shot. I was just trying to shoot and change on this one.”
Somehow, his net-side shot found the tiny space between Antti Raanta’s pads, and, somehow, the Flames managed to snatch two points from an Arizona Coyotes crew that dominated Calgary for a full 56 minutes.
Despite a dramatic, fortuitous win, Flames coach Bill Peters was fuming afterwards, pointing out the obvious — his club stole the game.
“We have to start playing for each other, playing the right way,” said Peters following the 4-3 triumph, marking the team’s first home game following a five-city, 10-day roadie.
“I don’t think we’re doing that right now. I don’t see that. If we are, I’m missing it.”
Goals 49 seconds apart in the final four minutes of the third period got the Flames out of a 3-1 hole they sure seemed destined to stay in all night long.
Along the way Rittich was superb, stopping several Grade-A scoring chances that could have iced the contest before Tkachuk scored on a late power play and Mark Giordano bounced one in off a defender less than a minute later with the goalie pulled.
In overtime, Rittich was forced to make five big saves, including a gem on Alex Goligoski before Tkachuk wrote another surprise ending with a goal radically different than his last game-winner.
“They’re all beautiful — they’re a wonderful thing,” said Peters when asked facetiously to compare Tkachuk’s last two overtime winners.
“They masked some problems obviously. We were no walk in the park three-on-three either.”
The only positive for the Flames the first couple periods was Johnny Gaudreau ending his 12-game goalless streak, redirecting a stellar Tkachuk pass on the power play into an empty net late in the second frame.
It brought the Flames within 2-1 before Vinnie Hinostroza upped the Coyotes lead midway through the third.
There were no signs the Flames cold battle back against a stifling defensive team whose netminder was in a zone.
“We gave them momentum and then all of a sudden we’ve got guys skating in mud,” said Peters of the early deficit created after Clayton Keller capitalized on an Andrew Mangiapane turnover 10 minutes in, and Christian Dvorak upped it early in the second.
“Gio is skating in mud and Lindy (Elias Lindholm) is skating in mud and you’re relying on these guys to come back and they’re gassed.”
Asked why he put the defensive pairs in a blender to start the second period, Peters was frank.
“They weren’t very good,” said Peters, who has Travis Hamonic playing with Giordano, Noah Hanifin playing with Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington alongside T.J. Brodie.
“They couldn’t pass the puck. Everything is in feet and behind guys. When you look slow it’s puck speed and execution. Guys are open and they don’t see them and we put it behind them. It’s the National Hockey League, you’ve got to be able to pass.”
Will he consider keeping the lines he switched to?
“I think there’s lots to talk about there tonight and tomorrow. Lots to talk about,” steamed Peters, whose club’s wildly inconsistent play from game to game and period to period is a major concern for the 9-7-2 Flames.
“We need more out of some veteran guys.”
He wasn’t finished.
“It doesn’t have to be a Picasso,” he said of a squad that missed the net 25 times, yet somehow got 43 shots on Raanta.
“We got some breaks here tonight. It’s not a recipe for success. We made changes because we looked flat. We talked about freebies earlier in the years — it’s a little too easy to get to our net and get quality chances.”
That’s where Rittich stepped in, saving 34 shots in all, to be the game’s first star.
“Could have made it 4-1, but we didn’t,” said Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet.
“Calgary didn’t give-up … two goals that hit the shaft and go in, and then obviously the overtime (winner). We had four or five empty nets, we had four or five breakaways — their goalie played really well.”
“He was the best player on the ice tonight,” confirmed Tkachuk, who prolonged his final overtime shift to take advantage of a drained Coyotes trio that was hemmed in for the better part of two minutes.
“Obviously Ritter played unbelievable and in overtime made some incredible saves.”
Last word to Peters, who will have plenty of them for his players at practice Wednesday.
“He allowed us to come back, and he’s been battling all year. He’s been real good for us, so hopefully … we can get this thing straightened out and tightened up so we don’t have to rely on him so much.”